Thursday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon would lift a formal ban on women in combat roles in the US Military.
It’s likely this is the last major act by Secretary Panetta, who is stepping down. Even if it’s not his last act, there is no doubt this is the act with the greatest import he has taken in his abbreviated stint as the head of the Defense Department.
Countries currently allowing women in combat (map) are mostly in Europe: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden; and in prosperous English-speaking countries: Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In addition, one desperate country (Israel) and two desperately poor countries (Eritrea and North Korea) allow women in combat.
Women are piloting US fighter aircraft already. Other nations that allow women fighter pilots are Pakistan, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (or, as I prefer to call it, UKoGBaNI, “you-kay-oh-guh-ban-nee”).
Women already serve in combat roles in the US military, but through a number of (draft?) dodges, the military establishment has maintained the fiction that they do not. For example, there’s this anecdote reported by CNN.com from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey:
As he prepared for a trip outside his headquarters, he took a moment to introduce himself to the crew of his Humvee.
“I slapped the turret gunner on the leg and I said, ‘Who are you?’ And she leaned down and said, I’m Amanda.’ And I said, ‘Ah, OK,’ ” Dempsey told reporters at the Pentagon.
“So, female turret-gunner protecting division commander. It’s from that point on that I realized something had changed, and it was time to do something about it.”
At this writing, 67 of the nearly 3,500 Americans killed by hostile fire in Iraq and 33 of the more than 1,700 killed in combat in Afghanistan have been women. About 1,000 of the 50,000-plus US wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are women.
It’s not clear what physical standards will be set for many of the specialized élite combat roles — such as Navy SEALS and Army Rangers — but while gender will not be a criterion, most everyone agrees that the physical standards will exclude all but the most exceptional of women.
If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job — and let me be clear, I’m not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job — if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation. — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
In one of those coincidences of history, Panetta’s announcement came just two days after the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision written by Justice Harry Blackmun (who was appointed by the raving liberal, President Dwight David Eisenhower).
The convergence of two lines of thought, one for each of these events, got me to reflecting on my childhood.
Norma McCorvey was a high school dropout, a drug user, and pregnant in 1969. (McCorvey has since spoken out against both abortion and President Obama.)
Two years later, in November 1971, National Airlines unveiled their blatantly sexist and belittling “Fly Me” campaign. Derided even at the time as being a bit outré, now it seems, only 42 years later, to belong to another universe, or at least something more distant in time than, say, Downton Abbey. Now Cheryl may be the pilot, but frankly, I wouldn’t care whether she was a Wookiee, so long as she can outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I’m talking about the big Corellian ships now.
The next month, December 13, 1971, a lawyer defending Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade (Wade was the respondent on behalf of the State of Texas), began glibly with a clunky attempt at wit: “It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”Imagine the attitudes that have changed among the American people since that world of 1971. Abortion, for 20 years after Roe v. Wade, freely available in the US (at least during the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy) was restricted by the same Court in 1992 and by many state legislatures. It is now legal in only a few states under severely restricted conditions. Only a few people could imagine equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people, much less imagine any or all of those groups in a combat role — or serving in Congress.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee decides to stay the course, according to Politico:
“On some things, we have the right policy and do a terrible job conveying it. And the Democrats have a bad policy and do a great job,” said Mississippi Republican Chairman Joe Nosef.
“So conservatives feel like, whether this is right or wrong, that if we’re talking about the issues, that we have a really good chance at winning. The thing we can’t do is start talking about crazy stuff… We run people off… A collective number of these people are tired of doing that.”
“I feel like a pro-life position is a position that a lot of people have, but that doesn’t have anything to do with crazy talk about rape,” he added.
Politico reports that “without objection, the full RNC approved a resolution by voice vote Friday calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and redistribute the money intended for cancer screening and preventive services to organizations that do not perform abortions.”
Women, once relegated to be on-demand bunnies for male entertainment on flights, are now flying not only the commercial plane but the air support for warfighters on the ground. Soon, women will be among those ground troops.